THE International Federation of Journalists today welcomed the decision at the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague to uphold an appeal by war correspondent Jonathan Randal who refused an order to testify in a war crimes case. "This decision sets a standard for justice that respects journalistic independence and the principles of press freedom," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ, which had submitted a statement to the court in support of Mr. Randal's appeal.
Former Washington Post reporter Randal had been subpoenaed to give evidence in the case against ex-Bosnian Serb Deputy Prime Minister Radoslav Brdjanin. Randal argued that the neutrality of war correspondents would be compromised if they were considered as potential witnesses. "The judges have ruled that journalists should have some exemption from the usual compulsion to give evidence," said Aidan White. "This is an important breakthrough in terms of international recognition of the neutrality of journalists while they are at work."
The IFJ believes that journalists should be free to decide themselves whether or not they should give evidence. While some journalists are willing to testify others believe, like Randal, that testifying before an international court will open the door to ever growing legal pressures to reveal sources of information and for the police at every level to try to use reporters as potential witnesses. "This decision means that we can now approach the new International Criminal Court with an open mind", said White. "It will be important that this ruling sets a precedent the future."
"We have to examine in detail what the judges have said", said White, "because they have not granted absolute privilege to journalists as has been the case with some other groups such as international humanitarian staff. But it is a benchmark judgment that means that courts must be convinced that the evidence of a journalist is crucial to achieving a verdict before a journalist is called to give evidence."